Artificial intelligence is on the rise, but skilled workers are often lacking to drive development. What should Company Pay attention to IT recruiting and what makes real AI specialists? Interview with Marc-David Rompf from Personalberatung dla.
Marc-David Rompf is co-founder and principal of HR Consulting dla Digital Leaders Advisory, He specializes in filling top management roles in Business & Professional Services companies. At dla he is responsible for Assessment and Succession. As an expert in leadership development, Marc is concerned with the question of what makes people in leadership positions perform at their best and which behavioral parameters are relevant to success. He supports complex mandates that require an interdisciplinary approach of search, organizational consulting and individual coaching. Prior to founding dla in 2017, Marc worked for the renowned executive search consultants LAB & Company and Mercuri Urval. He is a psychologist (M.Sc.), with basic training in systemic consulting and certified business coach. Marc is married and has a son.
Mr. Rompf, almost 13 billions of euros, for example, China plans to promote AI - only for the city of Tianjin. In view of such sums, can Germany still remain competitive in the development of AI innovations?
Yes, I am very confident. At present, this discussion revolves around the monetary factor. Of course, the figures from China are impressive, but with generously distributed sums, nobody creates innovation, let alone in a closed system. For this one needs pros and freethinkers: the offspring from their own education system and also AI talents from all over the world to let the knowledge circulate.
For a good performance of the AI location of Germany in the international comparison, it is therefore not so crucial whether you invest three or four billion in basic research or other facets of the topic. But whether it is possible today to convince AI specialists that a long-term professional engagement in Stuttgart, Berlin or Munich is just as interesting as a position in Seattle, San Francisco or Tel Aviv.
However, the KI top dogs in the US market such as Facebook, Amazon, OpenAI or the top league of US universities now offer not only some astronomical annual salaries, but also a first-class career station. How can you keep up with Zalando or RWE?
You do not have to - the salaried salaries are often about the spearhead, the "best of the best". Managers of this league also need teams and organizational structures that are already at Google / Amazon level, or at least close to pushing AI developments into new dimensions.
But most of the time, it's about creating a foundation of AI expertise and technology. Other employees are needed for this: for example software developers for AI & Machine Learning, specialists for visual image processing in industry or for social media marketing in the retail sector. So often data scientists or analysts who create value for the company from a certain database.
After big AI innovations, that does not sound like ...
Well, it's also about rebuilding the competencies within the organization and networking them so that AI innovation is born. Especially, what is it - technological - state-of-art in AI? What impact will KI have on working cultures in the future? Who defines the legal dimension, for example on the basis of "AI governance"? There is no master plan for this, it is developing in the river.
The TOP brands in the automotive industry are already on the right track, especially in Germany. Almost all of them now have betalabs, ie innovation centers in which AI applications are tested, also in international exchange. It is particularly exciting that the position of the 'AI guru' is becoming more and more prevalent there for the success of AI initiatives.
What's it all about?
It is an AI generalist, very simply said. He or she can not just program smart software, but can also control the topic on the market. So it tells its customers what is realistic and what is not: what can be done quickly? Does the company have the use cases and performance for that?
In the recruitment market, there are currently many candidates from major technology consultancies with presales backgrounds on OT software and business intelligence, which are now "reskilling" for AI. In my opinion, these are not the experts for the guru role. But those who have moved to prestigious chairs in this cosmos and then found a relevant path in deep technical subjects. These profiles are very often found in Germany - this is a location advantage that is still far too rarely perceived.
Of which magnitude do we speak?
For a position with a global European technology company, we assembled a selection of suitable candidates with different levels of experience, from Vice President (VP) to individuals with a few years of work experience, who instead had the aforementioned research background.
That was about 150 people, of which we could delete about one third, because of their too commercial role. Another third fell out because it had other characteristics, such as a data scientist or IT consulting.
Stay 50 ...
Right, 50 relevant profiles - but now comes an interesting point: they were all different. There was someone from the automotive industry, for example, who had set up an Applied AI Research Center to quickly test and implement AI solutions.
An AI expert had helped to define the AI roadmap and strategy for the group brand insurance. Such a person can transfer the topic into different industries - and this candidate was then finally the one from 150, which hired our customer.
Specifically in this example - what makes this expert to an "AI guru"?
For example, that she has degrees in computer science and linguistics. This is a very good combination when the job - as in this case - involves the introduction of language assistants. And then you have to think outside the box, for example to find solutions for how vouchers and invoices in customer communication can be integrated via voice assistant and combined with other complex technologies such as blockchain.
The special thing about the AI expert, however, is that she developed a passion for digital transformation and machine learning issues and eventually came into a role where she had to interface with technologists and business decision makers in the company. This is exciting. Because she understands the technology and can transport it into the organization - and always has the business aspect behind it in mind. What does the market need, what does the organization need and what does the customer want to see?
That's a strong combination. Because there are many who are highly skilled in the dimension of technological know-how - but at the same time struggling to keep up in the fast-moving business world.
What makes the attractiveness as an employer for such extraordinary talents?
They must provide these talents with a platform on which they have freedom of movement. Especially when an AI guru is good at the interface between technology and the business, he needs a certain area of responsibility in which he can and can play it off. That's the driver.
The salary is not the deciding factor?
The salary is of course an issue. But when we talk about the international labor market, many 'AI Hot Spots' like San Francisco or London also have an extraordinary cost of living. That can quickly relativize the sum of the annual salary. The decisive factor is actually the perspective of being able to make a difference.
An example: as an AI expert or expert, an e-commerce company in Berlin pays you an annual salary of perhaps 90.000 Euro, depending on the background and area of specialization more. If you are technically but also typologically very good and also already a bit networked in the AI scene, you will also receive offers from US companies with double the amount. In the meantime, I often observe that in such a case the decision is made for the German employer.
Because of the other scope of action?
Exactly. Anyone starting their career today as an AI specialist in the "Gang of Four" * can certainly find themselves there as a small cog in a huge gearbox in which his ideas and achievements only make up a marginal share.
Or, worse, the purpose of the employment relationship is simply that no other company benefits from its AI expertise and manpower.
What limits the design options especially ...
.... And that does not correspond to the DNA of these companies: Apple & Co. formerly won the best people also not because of exorbitant salaries for themselves. But because they offered the perspective to be part of a unique movement and to pioneer in a whole new work culture.
This is very similar in the current situation. Many AI talents want to see the "impact" of their own performance in the company: they want to take responsibility and decide what is "innovative" and prioritize topics. And these topics should then not disappear in the drawer, but really be implemented. With such freedom of action, local companies are also gaining German AI experts who have worked abroad in recent years and are now returning to their homeland. And the reaction of US companies shows that these are not isolated cases.
In what way?
For example, based on the AI Centers and Labs being developed at the digital and industrial hotspots in the country. Amazon has the KI Center in Berlin, IBM Watson is already represented in Munich, and NVIDIA has moved to a location where they focus on AI infrastructure. In addition to the high attractiveness of the metropolises, the issue of freedom of design certainly plays an important role in keeping good people in the long term.
However, the format of a KI Think Tank, which creates scope for innovation outside of the organization, has long since been offered by German companies - the Bosch KI Center in Renningen is a good example. Research and development is carried out in six AI disciplines at five locations in the USA, India and Europe, in Renningen alone with over 100 AI experts. A clear advantage for the AI location Germany.
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